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Baby Couch Potatoes

By Wendy Priesnitz

Baby Counch PotatoesUnhealthy inactivity isn’t just a problem for middle-aged men anymore. In fact, we appear to be creating baby couch potatoes. According to a survey on children’s physical activity from Active Healthy Kids Canada, more than half of preschoolers are dangerously inactive.

It’s generally believed that children between ages one and five should get at least two hours of exercise each day. But researchers have found that less than half are getting the daily movement they need for healthy growth and development, putting them at risk for obesity and other health problems before they’ve even finished kindergarten.

While running, jumping and climbing used to be a way of life for young children, the research shows that modern lifestyles are conditioning them out of their instinct to be in perpetual motion. Instead, they spend their time in front of the television, riding in strollers, or strapped into car seats.

But it’s not just parents’ fault. The study found that 96 percent of 24 major municipalities surveyed have a community-level policy that hinders physical activity participation in children and youth. Ironically, in a misguided attempt to keep kids safe (and spare municipalities the burden of legal action), many playgrounds have been dismantled over the past decade, and many rules put in place that hamper children’s free play. The study found that 96 percent of 24 major municipalities surveyed have a community-level policy that hinders physical activity participation in children and youth.

“We already know that the early years are a critical period of growth and development, but growing evidence tells us that physical activity must be a fundamental part of the early-life experience,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer, Active Healthy Kids Canada. “Studies show that children who are obese before six are likely to be obese later in childhood, and it’s estimated that overweight two- to five-year-olds are four times as likely to become overweight as adults. Preschool obesity is on the rise in Canada, yet we do not have physical activity guidelines for children five and under.”

“Active play may be fun, but it’s not frivolous,” says Dr. Tremblay. “In the early years, active play is required for healthy development, as it builds confidence and basic movement skills, and fosters social interaction, imaginations and self-esteem.”

Disturbingly, the research found that 90 percent of children begin watching TV before their second birthday, even though it is recommended that children under age two get zero screen time. Despite the negative impact of early childhood screen exposure, new e-parenting products continue to surface, and a recent survey shows that four of the 10 best-selling education apps in the iTunes store are aimed at children under four.

As kids grow older, their physical activity levels are not improving. For the fourth year in a row, the Report Card assigns an F for Physical Activity Levels, as only 12 per cent of Canadian children and youth are meeting Canada’s physical activity guidelines of 90 minutes a day.

Physically active kids grow into strong, healthy adults. With healthcare costs spiraling upwards, it is essential that our society build the foundation for a healthier, more active population by supporting and encouraging families, at all levels, to get their kids moving.

Wendy Priesnitz is Child's Play Magazine's Editor.

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